Northern Ireland

Bloody Sunday Inquiry: Families say no prosecutions over allegations of perjury ‘an affront to rule of law’

A mural commemorating the victims of Bloody Sunday in Derry
A mural commemorating the victims of Bloody Sunday in Derry (Brian Lawless/PA)

Families of Bloody Sunday victims have said a decision not to prosecute 15 former British soldiers over perjury is an “affront to the rule of law”.

The families were responding to a decision by the Public Prosecution Service, confirmed today, that 15 former soldiers and one alleged former Official IRA member would not face prosecution.

The PPS has said there was no reasonable prospect of securing a conviction in the cases.

Regarded as one of the darkest days of the Troubles, 13 people were killed when paratroopers opened fire on a crowd taking part in a civil rights march in Derry on January 30 1972. A 14th victim, John Johnston, died later as a result of his injuries.

The Bloody Sunday Inquiry, headed by judge Lord Saville, was announced by former British prime minister Tony Blair in 1998 and delivered its findings in 2010 that there was no justification for shooting any of those killed or wounded.

Following the inquiry, the PSNI submitted an investigation file to the PPS in relation to allegations of murder and attempted murder against a number of people.

One soldier, known as Soldier F, is facing prosecution accused of two murders and five attempted murders on Bloody Sunday.

The PPS had previously said consideration would also be given as to whether the test for prosecution was met in respect of allegations that those reported had given false evidence in connection with the Bloody Sunday Inquiry.

It said its prosecution team has now determined that the available evidence is insufficient to provide a reasonable prospect of conviction of any suspect considered.

John Kelly’s 17-year-old brother Michael was shot dead on Bloody Sunday.

Speaking on behalf of the victims’ families, he said: “We consider that today’s ruling by the PPS is an affront to the rule of law and a continuation of the injustice that was perpetrated on Bloody Sunday.”

Kate Nash, whose brother, William (19) was killed and whose father, Alex was wounded, said the British government had protected the soldiers for 52 years and she did not believe that would change.

Solicitor for the majority of the Bloody Sunday families, Ciaran Shiels (Madden and Finucane), said his clients were disappointed by the PPS decision. Mr Shiels also expressed surprise that none of the evidence given by former Parachute Regiment officers to Saville was referred to the PPS.

“The families made serious and detailed allegations in relation to Mike Jackson’s conduct on Bloody Sunday. He had personally interviewed those who admitted firing live rounds in the ear of his APC before the Paras had even departed the Bogside and was recalled to the Bloody Sunday Inquiry (Saville) to explain his omissions in his evidence,” Mr Shiels said.

Addressing the British government’s Legacy Act, which allows for conditional immunity from prosecution for Troubles offences, the solicitor said that it was “regrettable” that the PPS decision was released less that two weeks before the “effective enactment date of the morally bankrupt legacy legislation” which, he said, was designed to ensure British army veterans were not brought before the courts.

Mr Shiels said the families’ legal team would consider the PPS ruling with a view to taking a possible Judicial Review. He said that there was pressure on any legal action because of the Legacy Act deadline.

PPS senior public prosecutor John O’Neill said: “All decisions on whether or not to prosecute are taken by independently and impartially applying the test for prosecution.

“The standard of proof needed for a criminal prosecution is high.

“For a conviction, the prosecution must establish beyond a reasonable doubt, through available and admissible evidence, the commission of a criminal offence by the suspect.

“After careful consideration, it has been concluded that the available evidence in this case is insufficient to provide a reasonable prospect of obtaining a conviction of any suspect for offences in relation to the giving of false evidence.”

Mr O’Neill added: “The decision making involved the consideration of a vast amount of material.

“Consideration of the allegations of false evidence presented particularly complex evidential and legal issues, all of which were thoroughly analysed by the prosecution team.”

The PPS said three particular issues arose during its considerations:

- While the Bloody Sunday Inquiry may have rejected the evidence of some individuals, the PPS said it did not always express those findings in terms amounting to criminal standard of proof.

- The PPS concluded that accounts of events given by soldiers in 1972, which were rejected by the inquiry, would not be admissible in criminal proceedings today.

- The full amount of evidence upon which the Bloody Sunday Inquiry based its findings is not available to prosecutors.

Mr O’Neill said: “I wish to make clear that these decisions not to prosecute in no way undermine the findings of the Bloody Sunday Inquiry that those killed or injured were not posing a threat to any of the soldiers.

“We acknowledge that these prosecutorial decisions will be disappointing to the victims and families involved, and that this may be another difficult day for them.

“We have written to them to explain in detail the reasons for the decisions.

“We would like to provide assurance that these decisions were taken impartially, independently and only after the most thorough and careful consideration of all available evidence and the relevant legal issues.”

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said the decision not to prosecute soldiers for perjury following their evidence to the Saville Inquiry is “another blow” for the Bloody Sunday families.

Mr Eastwood said: “This is the latest in a long line of decisions which have delayed and denied justice to the Bloody Sunday families.

“Lord Saville’s remarks could not have been clearer: many soldiers who gave evidence to the Bloody Sunday Inquiry ‘knowingly put forward false accounts in order to seek to justify their firing’.

“The mental, legal and linguistic contortions that have been gone through to protect these soldiers over the last 50 years really beggars belief and stands in stark contrast with the way families have been treated.

“I know this is another difficult moment for these families but the people of Derry, and people all across the world, know the truth about what happened here that day.

“The campaign for justice is not over, not be a long stretch, and we’ll continue to stand with the families for as long as it takes.”

Sinn Féin MLA, Pádraig Delargy said the decision was “deeply disappointing” for the Bloody Sunday families.

“I have no doubt they will remain steadfast and resolute in whatever steps they take next,” Mr Delargy said.

DUP MP, Gregory Campbell said the announcement was not a surprise. Mr Campbell said the passing of time made and the lack of new evidence made the decision obvious.